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Gaming in the Wild: Pretty (Frustrated) in Pink

I want to thank everyone who took the time to let me know how much you enjoy my writings, and your further encouragement for me to keep producing content once the Mad Adventurers close their doors in the new year. It means a lot to me to know that you are out there…

As Christmas approaches rather sooner than I am usually prepared for, my darling wife and I came to a frustrating realisation about the differences between boys and girls. Beyond the obvious.

As we finished up some shopping in anticipation of the holidays, we looked for some clothes of a dressier nature for our son and daughter to open on that special day. My son is eleven and enjoys button down shirts, bowties and comfortable pants on even the regular days. He’s a Whovian, there can be no doubt. His collection of ties has grown over the year, and while he has not yet graduated to tying his own, he is very proud of his collection. It has been reported to me that he does receive some heat at school from his classmates regarding his attire, yet he is a stoic lad, and holds fast to his decisions in that regard, for which I am so proud. In our world of subcultures and geekery, there are many of us who have had to endure ridicule like this. I am saddened that he must suffer these arrows, but I admire his courage. Whether that is our doing or the strength of his character I don’t know, and nor do I care. As frustrating as it is that I cannot fight his battles or protect him, I know that he will soldier on.

I digress. We went to the boy’s and men’s clothing sections (he is growing so fast!), and quickly acquired the items we sought. Then it was on to my daughter’s ensemble. Row upon row and display over display we looked for her special clothes. In the boy’s end, there were a variety of different styles and themes of clothing. Rough and tumble with trucks and cars, licensed material from Marvel and DC, Star Wars and video games riddled the shelves, and choked the aisles. It was easy to find what we wanted, especially when it came to just plain old clothes, with no mass marketed themes plastered upon the products. Not so for my daughter.

Like many parents, we consider her to be a special snowflake. She is smaller in stature, but not abnormally so. She is pretty, giving me vague fears for her adolescent years when I start remembering what sort of teenager I was, and suspecting every boy to be the same. Or worse. However she is not a stereotypical girl, the kind department stores count on shopping within their walls. If I could pin down her fashion sense it would compare to Rainbow Brite’s, a cartoon and product line from the late nineteen eighties. Except of late, she prefers pants over skirts and dresses, and would more resemble a Pokemon than a Barbie doll to be sure. She is hilarious and witty. Performing silly dances and making obscene fart noises almost absentmindedly, as she plays Minecraft or Munchkin. She loves the Leacock trilogy of cooperative games, and Pandemic is her favourite right now. She has Star Wars posters on her wall, and yet also has her very lifelike doll companion Jackie set up with a variety of furniture and fashion, whom she tucks in to bed most nights.

Not a tomboy, not a girly girl. Full of life, lover of gymnastics and Arrow on the CW network. I pity those who would make the mistake of ever assuming she was “just a girl.” Yet as we browsed the racks and stands, we found nothing that we could safely assume was “her.” Athletic wear with an emblem decreeing “Team Selfie.” Shirts with various objectifying statements which on the surface seem to indicate equality and empowerment, yet are presented in dainty and pop-ified fonts and designs, making them seem harmless and ineffectual. You know, “cute.”

How was it that we could find clothes to fit any male personality type or interest for our son, but when we sought out girls things, we were pigeon-holed to seemingly only one version of the female spirit? It was appalling, and insulting. We were insulted on behalf of her, she who parades around the house in her animal visaged hoodies which could have come straight from Japan. Her Wonder Woman socks worn high on her calf so the tiny capes didn’t drag on the floor. Those were adult socks as well, from Up North Games in Huntsville, Ontario. Sad.

Gaming is not so different in many cases. While I am not up on the controversy surrounding it, I have heard whispers of the abject misogyny contained within the Conan game which was recently published in North America and I assume, internationally. A percentage of the gaming population has rejected the game however good, based on its depiction of women and their treatment within the themes of the game. I would say that was the world that Robert E. Howard created, and the game seeks to honour that, but again, I am not up on the whole affair.

There has been great debate in fantasy role-playing circles for years about whether Dragonborn females have breasts, and Wizards and TSR have received criticism in various forms over the decades for the functional depiction of female armor in their illustrations, but speaking as my almost forty year old self reflecting on my sixteen year old self, I get it. Know your market. But did it have to be that way? Yes and no.

Many of TSR’s earliest ads showed both boys and girls arranged around a table with one gesturing from behind the screen and throwing dice. On the surface, RPGs were inclusive to all. It wasn’t until you started thumbing through the pages that you saw burly adventurers in historically accurate medieval protection, standing next to a would-be Red Sonja in the iconic and much ogled metal bikini.

Back to modern clothing for young girls. If my young lady is a special snowflake as stated )and I highly doubt she is alone), then I would have anticipated a challenge in getting her gifts from the faceless mega corporate department store, who must cater to as wide a range of people and their money. However, I did not anticipate it being nigh impossible to find for her an outfit that her mother and I thought both reflected her personality and fashion sense, yet did not demean her as an equal human being, hinting at a “cute girl” with “fierce” aspirations.

We fought and wrestled with the options and eventually cobbled together an outfit we thought worthy of her, but we left frustrated and worrying for her future. Her brother may have to hold tight to his unique sense of classic style, but at least he is armed with the options to create, a broad pallette of messages to send out to the world about who he is and what he loves. My daughter’s quiver is small and almost empty, and she is already sorely outnumbered in her fight, no matter what fashion companies would have you believe.

There was a gasp of disappointment from the Lego building community when they released their Friends line of building models. The minifigures were altered to appear taller and more feminine, with current couture painted upon their femininely coloured plastic bodies. The bricks don’t follow the standard palette of classic Lego colours, and the themes of the series were cornered into the apparent dreams and activities of the young girls they were marketing towards. After a few years of these being released, they really haven’t changed much. The online communities’ most sensible argument was that if girls want to make female minifigures, then the company could simply include hair and head options that simply and obviously portrayed them as such. Include them with all standard non-licensed sets and let that be an end of it.

I know there are many girls out there who are just not interested in a strictly masculine type of building set, but being able to build a fire hall or restaurant and having the option to populate it with female characters would be plenty good for a large portion of brick builders out there. There is a place in the world as well for the girly girls and tomboys, and if you look hard enough you will find what you need for your own little flake.

My contention is that there is a disproportionate gap between the size and availability of options to the casual (and last minute) shopper when it comes to little girls and boys out there in the world, and I can’t be the only one who sees that. Not everyone wants a feminised or masculine version of any number of things for their children. Sometimes we just want a thing that is cool to share with our children that doesn’t seek to tell them who they are supposed to be.

I will be attempting through the holiday season to publish my final article for MAS. I aim for it to be more positive and less ranty as I say farewell to these lovely people and go off on my own way. If you wish to remain current with what I am doing in terms of online self-publishing, please follow my Twitter account, @AlmondRob. I only tweet about my gaming and writing activities there. I also have a Facebook account under my name, which I believe is the accepted format.

What are your thoughts on the above in terms of the women and girls in your life, whether it be family or gaming community. I would love to hear about it.

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